Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-76)|
MP, MS ROWENA
15 JULY 2010
Q1 Chair: Deputy Prime Minister, welcome
to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee. You are
our first ever witness, which is quite appropriate, on only our
second day of life. We appreciate the fact that you have taken
the time to come here very quickly. I hope that indicates your
general commitment to pre-legislative scrutiny and the provision
of adequate evidence so that decisions can be made by the House
with the fullest possible knowledge. We are a completely new committee
with new Members. I will introduce them as and when I call them
to ask questions. Perhaps it might be helpful both to you and
the Committee if first you take a few minutes to provide a general
outline of where you feel we are at the moment, what progress
has been made and your longer-term view of both political and
Mr Clegg: First,
I congratulate you on your election as Chair of the Select Committee
by the whole House under the new procedures and all Members for
the constitution of the Committee yesterday. I am very pleased
to come before you as quickly as I have been able to. Thank you
very much for giving me this opportunity. I am before you as Deputy
Prime Minister of a new coalition government and in that role
I work alongside and in support of the Prime Minister in developing
and overseeing the implementation of policies across the range
of government. I chair the Home Affairs Cabinet Committee which
covers the broad waterfront of domestic policy, but I assume that
you wish the main focus of our discussions to be the area for
which I have taken direct responsibility: the political and constitutional
reform agenda. Perhaps I may say a few words to set the scene.
To try to put it in context, first while what we have included
as a government in our coalition agreement is an ambitious and
wide-ranging agenda of political and constitutional reform in
many important respects it does not seek to re-invent the wheel;
in some respect it just picks up ideas that have been around for
a very long time. House of Lords reform has been debated for over
a century. I believe that the Alternative Vote (AV) was first
proposed by a Royal Commission in 1910 and put to a vote here
in 1930. As we discuss this further I hope you will feel that,
yes, there is ambition and radicalism in the breadth of the reform
agenda but a lot of it goes with the grain of debates that have
been going on in British politics for a very long time. Second,
while I have no doubt there will be disagreements, discussions
and polemics around some aspects of it I also hope that the reform
agenda will build upon what I believe to be an unprecedented moment
of underlying consensus among the main parties that political
reform must happen. That has not always been the case, but I think
a constellation of events, not least the expenses scandal in the
latter half of the previous parliament, really forced all of us
to come to terms with the need for extensive political reform
in order to re-establish public trust in what we do here in the
name and on behalf of constituents. I hope that notwithstanding
disagreement and discussion on a number of aspects it will nonetheless
benefit from that underlying political consensus which seems to
me to be stronger now than it has been for a very long time. The
third and slightly wider point is that we are, comparatively speaking,
a fairly old democracy with long-established democratic traditions.
The great advantage of it is that we are very proud of our traditions,
institutions and political and democratic history, but I believe
that because of that it also places a particular duty on us constantly
to review, renew and refresh our political institutions in the
way we conduct ourselves in politics so that we continue to reflect
the changing nature of the society in which our political institutions
are located. The changes in wider British society in recent decades
are quite unprecedented: the breakdown of traditional class-based
tribal political affiliations; the collapse of the culture of
deference towards people in power; the use of information technology
to hold people to account; and the demand for greater transparency
in the way power is wielded. All those things are very big changes.
They have also expressed themselves in unprecedented levels of
mass abstention. In the two general elections before the most
recent one more people did not vote than voted for the winning
party. All of those things indicate that we need constantly to
strive to make the way we conduct ourselves more transparent and
accountable and respond to the greater demand, which has increased
in recent times, that people rightly have for accountability for
the way in which we conduct ourselves. I hope those remarks provide
some sort of scene-setting for what this coalition government
now seeks to do.
Q2 Chair: Do you have a Permanent
Mr Clegg: I do.
Q3 Chair: Would you care to introduce
some of the key members of your team? I am sure we shall be interacting
with them a good deal over the next five years.
Mr Clegg: Is it against protocol
if they introduce themselves?
Q4 Chair: Not at all; please go ahead.
Ms Collins-Rice: I am Rowena Collins-Rice,
the Deputy Prime Minister's Director General in charge of his
constitution policy group.
Mr Sweeney: I am Mark Sweeney,
Head of the Division that is responsible for policy on elections,
party funding and referendums.
Ms Simpson: I am Judith Simpson,
Head of the Division in charge of the reform of Parliament and
the constitution more generally.
Mr Clegg: That is not everybody
on this side, but I hope it provides an initial introduction.
Q5 Chair: They are your key people?
Mr Clegg: Yes.
Q6 Chair: The reason I ask is that
obviously it is important to will the means as well as the ends.
People appreciate that your philosophical background in this matter
is very strong but this is a new Department and therefore a new
Select Committee. Are you confident that you have the facility
and back up to achieve what is quite a democratic revolution,
not least with four Bills coming forward in the first six months?
Do you believe you have that equipment in the Department?
Mr Clegg: Yes, I do. As you may
be aware, we have basically transferred a team of people, some
of whom are here, from what was formerly the Ministry of Justice
to work to me in the Cabinet Office, because you are quite right
that it would be senseless to try to embark on this without having
the right resources. We are aware of the fact that we need to
dedicate a lot of political time, energy and effort during the
passage of these measures through both the House of Commons and
House of Lords.
Q7 Chair: Given the tremendous burst
of activity necessarily because you have momentum for this agenda
in the first year, is there also a long-term strategy? Are there
other things to come in the course of what may well be a five-year
Mr Clegg: At the moment we are
focusing on a particular chronology for the measures which we
have already announced in the coalition agreement. We shall publish
shortly, literally in the coming days, Bills on fixed-term parliaments
and the AV referendum and boundaries. Those two are, if you like,
the first two key measures. Around the turn of the year we shall
publish the draft Bill on House of Lords reform. Those three set
piece Bills are the most important first wave of reform. There
are a number of other commitments in the coalition agreement:
recall for MPs; regulation of lobbying; funding reform; and other
measures. We shall be introducing those in the second wave, if
you like, but exactly how and when we do that depends on progress
we make on the first wave of measures.
Q8 Tristram Hunt: I want to ask about
the guiding light behind it and whether this is a utilitarian
vision of reform to get things straight or there is a broader
vision behind it and we are on the path towards a written constitution.
If so, does it need some more poetry behind it to coalesce these
forces or is it a tidying-up idea as you see it?
Mr Clegg: I believe any reform
programme can do with a bit of extra poetry. It is a mix of idealism
and pragmatism. The poetic side of it, if you like, is the belief
that I hold very strongly, which is shared by the coalition government
as a whole, that power should wherever possible be dispersed;
that power when wielded should be accountable; that there should
be checks and balances on power; that arguably the British state
and the way in which political institutions have developed over
time have allowed too much power to coalesce at the centre; that
too much of that power has not been sufficiently transparent;
and that, certainly compared with other mature democracies, we
are an unusually secretive and over-centralised state. Therefore,
the overall poetry is a classically small `l' liberal one of dispersing
power, making it more accountable, seeking to empower communities
and also empower people in a way that holds politicians to greater
account. That is the overall perspective, but the way in which
one tries to implement that narrative is constrained by political
realities, in the case of the coalition by the negotiations between
the two parties. I am very open about the fact that compromises
are involved in that.
Q9 Sir Peter Soulsby: In presenting
your reforms to us today you have played them down; you describe
them as reforms that do not re-invent the wheel and go with the
grain of events. I wonder whether even with the second wave of
the process you have described it really comes anywhere near the
way you have described them as a power revolution and a fundamental
resettlement of the relationship between state and citizen. Do
they not come a long way short of that rhetoric?
Mr Clegg: Let us imagine for a
moment what things would feel like if we implemented the measures
we are talking about. I hope that our politics would feel very
different by 2015. If they choose so in a referendum people may
express an order of preference for their candidates when they
next go to the ballot box; they may be electing Members of the
House of Lords wholly or in large part by a proportional system;
they will be confident that they have political parties where
the murky business of big money funding of parties has been cleaned
up; they will know that they have power to gather a petition of
10% of people in their own area if their MP is accused of serious
wrongdoing and has not been otherwise properly dealt with and
trigger a by-election; they will know that lobbying in Westminster
has been properly and transparently regulated; and they will know
that the timing of the next general election will not be a plaything
for the Prime Minister. If you put those together I believe they
will give people a greater sense that they are in charge, not
just us here in Westminster. It is right to emphasise that a lot
of this goes with the grain of some long-standing debates. Bringing
them all together and in a sense deploying the political will
to make political reform finally happen will make a dramatic difference
to the way in which politics is conducted.
Q10 Sir Peter Soulsby: Do you really
believe they justify the description that they are the most significant
reforms since the Great Reform Acts of the 19th century?
Mr Clegg: Tristram has picked
me up before on historical hyperbole. I am entirely happy to defer
to him and to others on the Act of 1832 and apologise if I have
made claims. To be fair, I believe the Act of 1832I am
not a historianwhile partial and modest, in so many ways
set in motion a domino effect of reforms which we are still implementing.
In a sense what we are talking about this morning is part of a
typically British way of conducting reform; it is done in fits
and starts and sometimes the political constellations and forces
come together to make it possible and sometimes they do not. I
believe that because of the unique nature of the commitments we
have all made across parties because of the public anger after
the expenses scandal and the need constantly to update our old
institutions as society around us changes very dramatically this
is a moment when together, broadly speaking, we can implement
a very far-reaching programme of reform.
Q11 Chair: Do you believe we have
parliamentary sovereignty or executive sovereignty in this country?
Is that an issue that concerns you?
Mr Clegg: I think we have executive
dominance; we have one of the most executive-led forms of government
anywhere in the western world. We have a curious imbalance, do
we not? We have a parliamentary culture which is famous round
the world. People on the other side of the Atlantic tune in to
Prime Minister's Questions. We have a very large parliament of
650 Members. Even if we bring it down to 600 it is still by a
long way the largest of any parliament among the mature democracies.
Yet beyond the pomp and ceremony of Parliament we have an executive
which is able to hoard information and wield power arguably in
a more unaccountable fashion compared with executives almost anywhere
else. We hope that with some of the changes we are to introduce,
whether it is the change which constituted this Committee to give
Parliament a stronger autonomous voice to hold us to account through
openly elected Select Committees, the implementation of the Wright
Committee recommendations, depriving the Prime Minister of the
right to fix the timing of the next general election, the move
towards greater transparency that we have talked about, or the
move towards greater de-centralisation away from Whitehall, which
we shall be pushing forward in the coming years, we will over
the next few years have gone some way to correct the imbalance
between the executive and legislature.
Q12 Chair: But if there was a majority
government returned at the next general election anything achieved
in the next five years could be overturned by that incoming executive?
Mr Clegg: That is a founding doctrine,
is it not? One cannot entirely bind the hands of future parliaments.
Maybe we should debate that. I am not entirely sure it would be
desirable to overturn that tradition, but, for instance, I hope
that if we moved towards fixed-term parliaments it would be both
welcome and also make it very difficult for any incoming government
of a different complexion to unpick it.
Q13 Chair: But are there things that
go beyond and deeper than statute law?
Mr Clegg: Some of the innovations
we are talking about are of a clear constitutional or quasi-constitutional
character, for instance the proposed new power for dissolution
set at a higher voting level than originally proposed: two thirds
rather than 55%. Clearly, that keeps to practice in many other
parts of the democratic world where parliaments retain exceptional
power to dissolve governments. That threshold is set in a way
that does not ever allow any government to do that unilaterally.
That has a tablet-of-stone feel about it and that is why it is
very important we proceed on that issueI have been very
keen to stress this in the past several weeksas much as
possible by consensus because it will bind our hands long into
Q14 Chair: If I may move to parliamentary
scrutiny per se, obviously four Bills are coming through
very quickly, two almost immediately dealing with AV, boundaries
and fixed-term parliaments. In this Committee we have attempted
to move extremely quickly and your presence today which we appreciate
is very much a part of that. What is your view however in terms
of future proposals coming before the House? Is it possible for
you to commit today to proper, full and timely pre-legislative
scrutiny on all the democratic reform proposals henceforth? If
we accept we have to be speedy on those two Bills would you nonetheless
give an undertaking that we can do this in a slightly more measured
way in future?
Mr Clegg: Unambiguously, yes.
First, perhaps I may thank you collectively for what I understand
the Committee plans to do in order to conduct in a compressed
timetable pre-legislative scrutiny of the two Bills you mentioned
dealing with fixed-term parliaments and AV boundaries. I agree
that the principle should be to time these things in a way that
allows for proper pre-legislative scrutiny. Notwithstanding the
slightly compressed timetable of the first two Bills you mention
I still hope that a combination of what this Committee is doing
now and immediately after the Summer Recess and the fact that
as constitutional Bills they will be taken on the Floor of the
House will mean that in sum they will be subject to the scrutiny
which obviously they deserve.
Q15 Chair: Philosophically, you are
committed to that and I appreciate your putting it on record.
Perhaps I may also underline that the means need to be in place
as well in terms of the links with the offices of the Leader of
the House, the Government Whips and your colleagues in Whitehall
so that all these things can be delivered and we can redeem that
promise in a timely way.
Mr Clegg: Yes.
Q16 Mr Chope: If these Bills are
to be considered on the Floor of the House do you agree it is
reasonable that there should not be any timetabling motions attached
to that consideration?
Mr Clegg: On the AV boundaries
Bill we have put ourselves under a fair amount of pressure to
try to get it passed as quickly as possible, so I am not sure
I can satisfy you entirely and say there will not be any timetabling.
We want to make progress as quickly as possible. On the fixed-term
parliament Bill we are slightly more relaxed, but in order to
maintain momentum on this important cluster of issues on boundaries
and AV we may need to timetable some of it.
Chair: I want to move on to one of the
specific items that the Bills address: the alternative vote system
and proposed referendums. A number of colleagues have questions
in this area.
Q17 Mrs Laing: Do you agree that
voting in a referendum to change the constitution is a totally
different part of the democratic process from electing a representative?
To have a referendum calling for a yes or no answer is not at
all the same as choosing which one of four or five candidates
should represent you.
Mr Clegg: I am not sure I entirely
understand the question. Without being pedantic, I am not sure
I would characterise a shift from first past the post to the alternative
vote, if people decide that in a referendum, as one that affected
the unwritten constitution as such. It is an incremental change
in the way in which people are elected. It retains the constituency
link and retains one Member. Maybe I am grappling with the question.
Q18 Mrs Laing: Perhaps I did not
make it clear, but the way you have answered it is perfect. I
was putting to you that constitutional change is different from
the mere process of an election between people. You suggest that
to change the voting system is not a constitutional change; I
suggest that it is.
Mr Clegg: It is a fairly esoteric
debate albeit an important one. We all know we do not have a written
constitution but one that is an amalgamation of written texts,
convention, precedents and so on. I am happy to be corrected by
those with greater knowledge of the constitutional proprieties,
but there is a certain modesty to the transition from first past
the post to the alternative vote, if that is what the referendum
decides, and I wonder whether it is commensurate with the suggestion
that it is a fundamental alteration of the constitution, but obviously
you do not believe that is the case.
Q19 Mrs Laing: It is perhaps not
surprising we disagree on that.
Mr Clegg: If I may test it, in
the United Kingdom as a whole we now have a patchwork of different
electoral systems: STV in Northern Ireland; an Additional Member
System in Scotland and Wales; a kind of AV here in London; and
closed list systems for the European Parliament. That has developed
over time. Has each of those innovations represented a fundamental
change in the constitution?
Q20 Mrs Laing: I would agree they
have; maybe others would disagree. The purpose of trying to define
that with you is to consider the issue of the validity of a referendum
on constitutional change. If I may take you more precisely to
the date of the referendum and then to the actual process itself,
are you concerned by the report of the Electoral Commission following
the Scottish elections in 2007 which was very critical of the
process of having different elections on different matters under
different systems held at the same time on the same day? I am
sure you are well aware of the objectionsI need not reiterate
them hereof the First Minister of Scotland, the Welsh Assembly
Government and others about the possible undermining of their
elections by the referendum being held on the same day. My concern
is not so much for them as for the validity of the referendum
itself. Are you concerned that the differential turnout that is
likely to occur by holding it on the same day is one of the facts
that might undermine the validity of the referendum itself?
Mr Clegg: Perhaps I may take timing
and differential turnout separately because they seem to be slightly
different issues. On timing, I have looked at the Gould Report
to which you refer conducted following the mishaps in the Scottish
elections in 2007. You are right that it is relevant. It made
a number of trenchant criticisms about the way in which the combined
elections were conducted but made crystal clear that the fundamental
problem on that occasion was the sheer complexity, not least physically,
of ballot papers as long as your arm for the local elections held
the same day. That created immense confusion for some voters.
The Electoral Commission subsequent to the Gould Report and as
recently as two weeks ago said quite clearly that there are benefits
in combining elections and also risks. Obviously, we need to mitigate
those risks and I am very keen that we as a government should
work activelywe arewith the Electoral Commission,
which would be responsible for the conduct of the referendum,
to make sure it is conducted properly and in a wholly workable
and successful fashion. It is worth bearing in mind that what
we propose this time is much simpler than what happened in 2007.
It will be a very simple question requiring a yes or no answer.
Without criticising this too much, I simply do not agreeI
have never quite understood the argumentit is wrong in
principle to ask people to vote on wholly different issues on
the same occasion. There is a lot of evidence that people do not
like to be asked to keep going back to the ballot box on separate
issues. For instance, if the alternative in Wales would be to
have three separate votes over the course of a few weeks I believe
it would be a mistake. On differential turnout, again let us keep
it in perspective. About 84% of English voters will be voting
in any event next May, so we are talking about a small minority
of people who will not be voting anywhere.
Q21 Mrs Laing: Do you mean that 84%
have the opportunity to vote?
Mr Clegg: Yes.
Q22 Mrs Laing: But the turnout at
local elections is usually well under 30%.
Mr Clegg: Yes, but I assume that
the differential turnout argument is that to hold the referendum
on the occasion of other votes somehow skews the pitch because
it means one has a higher concentration of votes where elections
are taking place already compared with places where they are not.
All I point out is that those areas of the United Kingdom where
elections are not taking place in May are much smaller than people
who make that argument seem to assume. Eighty-four per cent of
English voters will have the opportunity to vote alreadyit
is up to them to choose whether or not to do soas will
all Scottish and Welsh voters.
Q23 Mrs Laing: But do you accept
there is likely to be rather more interest in going to the polls
to vote where the elections are for the national government in
Scotland, Wales et cetera rather than in England where
that is not the case and therefore there is a risk? You mentioned
Mr Clegg: However we time the
referendumwhether or not it is held as a stand alone processwe
cannot micro-manage who will choose to vote in which parts of
the country. I still believe that you get different turnouts in
different areas in a referendum even if you hold it in isolation,
in exactly the same way that you get wildly different levels of
turnout in general elections. I do not believe there is anything
we can do in terms of crafting the legislation in determining
timing which somehow can force people to turn out or not. What
we are doing by having the coincidence of the referendum with
elections that take place across the vast bulk of the United Kingdom
on the same day is giving people the opportunity to go to the
ballot box and make two decisions at once. I do not think there
is anything wrong about that in principle.
Q24 Simon Hart: Notwithstanding that
we might have three votes in Wales in the first half of next yearreferendums
on further powers, on AV and the Welsh Assembly electioncan
we just project ourselves forward to 2015 for a moment when the
general election will probably fall on the same day as the Welsh
Assembly elections? What we may then be faced with in Wales is
a different system of voting for Welsh Assembly Members, 40 by
first past the post and the other 20 on the top-up list. You may
have the Westminster candidates being elected on the basis of
either AV or first past the post depending on the outcome of any
referendum, but at the same time there may be two separate boundaries
because you decouple Welsh Assembly boundaries from Westminster
boundaries. You may have quite a complicated mix of choices for
people to make including a number of candidates for the same party
but in different elections and by a different system all falling
on that date in May 2015. My question is: how will you react to
returning officers and the Electoral Commission in Wales if they
advise you that that poses a risk for voters, particularly those
who are partially-sighted or blind? How do you intend to react
to that when that question is posed to you?
Mr Clegg: First, any reservations
or anxieties raised by returning officers need to be taken seriously.
I do not want to brush those concerns under the carpet and I will
be very keen to work with the Electoral Commission, returning
officers and others in order to allay any concerns. Do I believe
that in principle it is not possible or too risky for people to
elect different representatives by different systems on the same
day? No, I do not. We already have a dizzying array of different
electoral systems across the United Kingdom and some of them have
coincided in the past. I think I am right in saying that relatively
recently we had European and London mayoral elections based on
a closed list system for the former and a form of preferential
voting for the latter. I remember that everybody said then it
would be a disaster and people would not understand it. It passed
off without almost any incident. Does that mean we should in any
way resile from major efforts to make the system as accessible
and explicable to people as possible? No, of course we should
not. We should not be indifferent to that, but I would hate to
think that we back off completely from the idea that somehow people
can make those two decisions based on totally different systems
at the same time.
Q25 Simon Hart: My point was not
to get you to back off but simply ascertain the extent to which
you are prepared to acknowledge the representations from Wales,
particularly returning officers and the comments of the Electoral
Commission to which we have already referred. You have made some
pretty strong comments about holding referendums on the same day
as other elections. I think there must be some quite compelling
stuff coming from you to reassure us that this has practical rather
than political benefits.
Mr Clegg: I hear what you say
and I am very keen to work in that spirit. You will be aware that
the Secretary of State for Wales is in constant contact with the
First Minister and others not least to seek to open a dialogue
on the issue of the 2015 date. I know there are strong feelings
both in Cardiff and Edinburgh.
Q26 Catherine McKinnell: I want to
ask about the AV system itself and hear from you why you believe
it is a good proposal for the country. Obviously, it is a system
that is used only in Australia and a couple of islands. Many commentators
seem to suggest that it is less proportional than the system we
have at the moment.
Mr Clegg: I will be very open
about it. If I could introduce an electoral system off my own
batI do not have that powerfor years I have made
it clear that my ideal would be a fully proportional one. This
is a preferential system, not a proportional one. Depending on
what people decided, it would be a significant change from the
existing system and it would have a high degree of continuity
with what people are already used to because they would still
be electing one person for an identifiable area for their own
constituency. I think the big difference and virtue is two-fold:
it stops people from voting tactically and second-guessing how
everybody else will vote in their area, so it allows people to
express a preference of all the candidates across parties in their
own area, and it also means that people who are elected to this
place, Westminster, know that that they have, through redistribution
of the votes in the alternative vote system, a mandate of 50%
or more of people in their community. First, it means people feel
that all their votes count, which is an important thing when millions
of people believe that presently their votes do not count; and,
second, there is a stronger sense of legitimacy when people arrive
here to represent their constituents. I believe they are significant
pluses and they also go with the grain of the way in which politics
are conducted at the moment.
Q27 Catherine McKinnell: I know there
are differences within the coalition generally on the subject
of the reforms. It has been made clear that you probably will
be campaigning for different outcomes in the referendums. Do you
believe that will have an impact on the working relationships
within the coalition?
Mr Clegg: I do not. One idea that
clearly we are getting used toit is a very positive change
in the political culture, which I hope I do not overstateis
that you can have people in government who work together in the
national interest across party lines but who are relaxed and grown
up about the fact they still retain differences. On the campaign
for the referendum, I do not believe that on either side it should
become one that is conducted by politicians in the name of political
parties. I hope that it will be a much more open referendum campaign
that captures the wider spirit of whether or not we want to reform
our politics and address some of the flaws in the current system
such as mass abstention, large numbers of people feeling their
votes are ignored and millions believing that their votes do not
count. I believe that if it collapses into a political partisan
referendum campaign within or without government it will be a
huge missed opportunity for genuine political renewal.
Q28 Catherine McKinnell: Do you not
have any concerns that it might set back for years the Liberal
Democrat cause ultimately for proportional representation?
Mr Clegg: I am not on some sort
of Maoist path for a long-term Liberal Democrat revolution. I
am very clear about my own views about the electoral system, but
I am acutely aware, in politics, as we all are that you have ideals
that drive you forward but you also have to be pragmatic about
what you can achieve a step at a time.
Q29 Catherine McKinnell: Do you see
this as a stepping stone towards it?
Mr Clegg: No, not at all. I do
not have some sort of dastardly plan that there will be the STV
referendum next and so on. I think one referendum on electoral
reform will be more than enough for the time being. If people
decide in a referendum to change do I think that alongside all
the other changes that have taken placethe new electoral
systems for Europe, Holyrood, the Assembly in Wales, the mayoral
election in London and the proportional system in the House of
Lords, if we get it throughit will increase people's awareness
of the fact that we can do things differently? Yes, of course
I hope so. The animating spirit of the whole programme of political
reform is that we can do things better and we do not have to stand
on ceremony with what we are used to.
Q30 Chair: I think it is permissible
to have a long-term strategy and you do not need to reveal it.
Mr Clegg: I agree, but I felt
that was perhaps the direction of the question.
Q31 Sheila Gilmore: I should like
to pursue further the conincidence of elections. The fact that
you have pressed ahead so fast means there does not appear to
be the possibility of consulting the devolved administrations
before making certain announcements. That has given rise to certain
issues and I would welcome your comments on why you thought it
was not possible to do that. I believe there are two issues: complexity
and one set of politics perhaps being subsumed within the other
and there are great disadvantages to that. As far as concerns
complexity, the 2007 position will perhaps be closer to what might
happen in 2015 which could be avoided. We can come to the question
of fixed-term parliaments later. You could have two full-scale
general elections with actually and potentially very different
electoral systems, one of which might be new depending on the
outcome of the referendum. That was exactly the situation we experienced
in 2007. That is the issue of complexity. The other issue is whether
by holding them coincidentally you make it more difficult. For
example, in Scotland where I come from will the issues of the
Scottish Parliament with very different Scottish politics be drowned
Mr Clegg: I must tread carefully
because you are so much closer than I am to how the domestic political
debate will play out in Scotland. If we start with the coincidence
of the referendum next year and the Holyrood electionsI
will also say a word about the 2015 criticisms of the Scottish
election and general electionI struggle to understand why
it is assumed that the extensive, wide-ranging debates about the
future of Scotland, the Government of Scotland and the politics
of Holyrood would in any way be subsumed, overshadowed or overturned
by a separate and very simple yes or no vote on how in future
people vote for their MPs. I am genuinely trying to work out what
the allegation is. I speak to friends of mine who will be voting
in Scotland. They see no complexity in it at all. They say that
debate on the Scottish elections will rage in the normal way and
separately on that day they will also say yea or nay to the alternative
vote. I do not quite see how it will be subsumed in that way.
As to 2015 perhaps I may take a little step back. I do not know
whether I pre-empt discussion about fixed-term parliaments.
Q32 Chair: We will come on to that.
Mr Clegg: When we proposed fixed-term
parliaments we had to decide what the period should be. Five years
is the established period of time. That means that every fourth
election there will be a coincidence between the Scottish elections
and the general election. I hope that, first, when they look at
it people will accept the reasons why we decided on the five-year
cycle in the way we have; and, second, that having that coincidence
once every two decades is not too great a complexity to bear.
Q33 Sheila Gilmore: You will be aware
that the Scottish Parliament has specifically rearranged local
government elections which would otherwise have taken place next
year to take place in a separate year on the back of the experience
of 2007. That was a major change. Is that not something on which
Mr Clegg: Yes, it is. As I said
earlier in response to Mrs Laing, the lessons of what happened
in 2007 and the complexity of the ballot papers for Scottish local
elections are of a different orderI believe that is borne
out by the conclusions of the Gould Reportfrom the simplicity
of a vote that we shall be asking people to cast one way or the
other in the referendum on the alternative vote system.
Chair: I shall do this in a slightly
different way because there is a lot of interest in this issue.
I shall ask colleagues to ask their questions and then for you
to respond to them as a group initially.
Stephen Williams: First, can you confirm
the sort of AV that we are to be using? I went to a breakfast
briefing on Tuesday of this week about different forms of alternative
votes. Can you confirm that it is the Australian House of Representatives
model that you hope to introduce rather than the London mayoral
or other mayoral systems that we have? My second question is to
do with the conduct of the referendum itself. Can you confirm
who will be eligible to vote because this is a reform of the Westminster
franchise? Can you confirm that the only people who will be allowed
to vote in this referendum will be those who are qualified to
vote for a Member of Parliament as opposed to, for instance, European
Union citizens, which perhaps is an issue in your own household?
Anyone representing a cosmopolitan constituency like Bristol West
would be well used to explaining to people how they can vote in
some elections and not others. My other questions on the conduct
of the referendum are the following. First, on spending I hope
we will not get into a situation where one side of the argument
will have a lot more money to spend than the other. How do you
see the spending limits being applied? Second, is there to be
any form of public spending, or will all the money for the yes
and no campaign have to be raised by those campaigners? Will there
be any form of public information about the referendum itself
and what AV means? Thirdly, what will come next? If we assume
that we get a yes voteI am optimistic that we willit
will be quite peculiar if only English local government in the
United Kingdom, possibly in Europe, is elected by first past the
post, yet the coalition agreement is completely silent on the
form of the English local government franchise. Is that something
you may want to move to in the second part of this reform of Parliament?
Mrs Laing: Perhaps I may take you again
to the validity of the outcome of the referendum, interestingly
you said a few moments ago that the campaign for the referendum
should not be politically partisan. I agree that is a valid point,
but how can it not be politically partisan if it happens on the
same day as elections which clearly are politically partisan?
As you said, 85% of England, all of Scotland, all of Wales and
all of Northern Ireland will be campaigning on political lines.
How can they campaign on political lines? As you do I have respect
for the electorate who will go into the polling station to make
two different decisions, but you really cannot expect people to
make one decision that is politically partisan and one that is
not. At the very most there is a risk of political partisanship
spreading between the two issues. To come to thresholds, since
the concern is for the validity of the outcome of the referendumI
am sure you agree that if you are to change something as important
as the voting system it must not be open to challengeyou
cannot spend the next four, 10 or 12 years defending what has
happened; it must be definite. At what point is the threshold
invalid? If 30% of people who can vote come out to vote and 51%
of those decide to make a change that is only 15% of the population
who vote in favour of change. Is that valid?
Q34 Chair: I will not call upon anyone
else; otherwise, you may lose the thread, but perhaps you would
be relatively brief so other colleagues can come in.
Mr Clegg: I have a cornucopia
of things. In answer to Stephen Williams, it will be an optional
preferential AV system. I am getting my head round all these different
Q35 Stephen Williams: Like the Australian
Mr Clegg: I stand to be corrected,
but I believe the Australian system is obligatory. What it means
is that you do not have to list everybody. In Australia if you
have four candidates you have to do one, two, three, four. Here
I think everybody agrees that you cannot force people to express
a preference if they do not want to, and clearly it is different
from the supplementary system in London where basically you move
immediately to a knockout contest between two candidates. Who
can vote? I have not broken this news to Miriam yet. It is bad
enough being on opposing sides of the fence in the World Cup final.
There is one exception: I do not see why a peer should not vote.
Q36 Mr Turner: They are in the House
Mr Clegg: They are in the House
Q37 Mr Turner: They do not get a
Mr Clegg: They do not get a vote
in the general election. I would be interested to hear the views
of the Committee, but it seems to me that on something like this
it will be only the second time since 1975 that we have a nationwide
referendum. In principle I do not see why peers should not be
able to express their views about reform of the electoral system.
As for funding, we will not re-invent the wheel; we shall apply
the existing rules under the Political Parties, Elections and
Referendums Act 2000. You will be aware that that imposes a funding
cap on what are called the designated organisations who will campaign
on either side of the referendum. It has an established formula
for how much money political parties can use. I think it has a
cap of £1/2 million for any other so-called permitted participant.
All of that will be administered by the Electoral Commission including
that body's right to grant a certain amount of money to each of
the two leading yes and no campaign organisations. Clearly, there
will be a thirst for and need for public information, but exactly
how that is provided and by whom is something we have not yet
decided. I would be very keen to hear any ideas. I am immensely
keen, not least because the government has differing views, that
it should not be seen to be driven by one side of the government
or the other and to make the information that is provided as objective
as possible. At the moment we have no plansthat is why
it was not in the coalition government agreementto turn
to the electoral systems used for election to English local government.
On validity, I think you and I disagree on the assumption that
people cannot separate out partisan reactions to one poll from
another even on the same occasion. Perhaps I may suggest that
the huge discrepancy between the way in which this new coalition
government is regarded and interpreted in our highly partisan
environment in Westminster and Whitehall and the generally rather
positive reaction from many people in the country at large shows
that the way in which we as politicians see everything through
partisan lenses is not shared by the vast majority of people who
do not walk around with tattoos on their foreheads saying they
are Liberal Democrats, Conservatives or Labour. Most people are
I think quite capable of saying that there are some decisions
they take when they are asked to support a political party and
other decisions they take for reasons not driven by party politics.
I think people's reaction to the fact there is now a coalition
government where people come together from different parties but
can work together in the national interests and can very easily
understand that intuitively shows that people are perfectly capable
of doing that, but I suspect you and I disagree on that. As to
the threshold, I have a list here as long as your arm of all the
referendums that have been held: the Greater London Authority
referendum in 1998; the Northern Ireland referendum in 1998; the
North East of England referendum in 2004; the devolution referendums;
the Border poll back in 1973; the 1975 European Community referendum.
All but one had no threshold. One did: the Scottish referendum.
That was forced on the government at the time, but the general
rule has been under governments of all complexion across a whole
range of referendums that you do not have a threshold. We shall
maintaindare I say itthat tradition. I think there
are very good reasons why we shall do that. First, let us not
romanticise about thresholds. I quickly totted up who amongst
those of us in this room would have been returned had there been
a threshold of 40%. Mr Chope would have been returned on his own.
I got 39.06% and so I would be yapping at his heels in second
place. That is a slightly facetious thing to say, but, more importantly,
I believe the experience of the one occasion when a referendum
with a threshold was held is that you create an incentive for
the no vote to encourage people not to vote because an abstention
in effect becomes tantamount to a no vote. I believe that to be
a wrong dynamic. Surely, we have an interest in a referendum to
encourage people to be engaged. You and I may disagree about how
you go about doing it, but I hope we agree that if you are to
hold a referendum you should not create a perverse incentive for
one side of the argument to discourage people from participating
at all. I believe that in principle that is not right.
Q38 Chair: One of the things we are
trying to do here is get out some of the basic facts, and clearly
you have an extremely thick brief in front of you.
Mr Clegg: I am happy to share
Q39 Chair: It would be marvellous
to get that for the record for colleagues who will come to debate
this on the floor. Then there will at least be some common basis
on who did what in what referendum, what the voting system was
Mr Clegg: This is in the public
domain; it is an annex from a document published by a previous
Chair: Whatever you have to give us,
that factual basis as opposed to opinion would be particularly
Q40 Nick Boles: I am sure that my
role as a new boyI am learningis to try to be inquisitorial,
but I want to make sure everybody understands that there is no
absolute unanimity against the idea of holding votes on the same
day. I take a much more extreme view. I believe that the problem
arises from holding different elections on separate days because
what tends to happen is that if you offer people, most of whom
do not follow politics day in and day out, the opportunity to
give the government of the day a kick and that is at the forefront
of their minds they will take it, whereas the experience of the
United States, which while not a model in many respects I consider
to be the model at least in terms of pure democracy, is that by
holding all elections on the same day you get people picking out
what they think about each one, so they vote one way on the president,
one way on governor, one way on mayor, one way on local congressmen
and one way on state senator. I think we are massively insulting
and underestimating the sophistication of the British people,
so on this point ( maybe only on this one) I think that if anything
I would rather we held all elections on the same day rather than
separate days which I am aware some colleagues would prefer.
Mr Clegg: That was a statement
rather than a question and one dare I say that makes for a great
debut. I agree with you. In some American states you go to a polling
station and vote on everything from the local dog catcher to the
governor all on the same day. It is like the social debate about
whether or not people can multi-task. I share your view; I really
do not believe people find it difficult to distinguish between
different topics simultaneously. It is a peculiar assumption of
the political classes that somehow uniquely in politics that is
Q41 Chair: I must cut colleagues
short, but presumably you would be very open to written requests
for further information.
Mr Clegg: Of course.
Chair: I apologise to colleagues, but
we have to try to squeeze in everything. We are trying to do preliminary
work on two Bills at least as well as hear the views of the Deputy
Prime Minister in a broader context. I want to move on to constituency
boundary reform and the reduction in size of the Commons.
Q42 Mr Turner: Last Monday week you
announced two exceptions to more standard constituency sizes,
both islands in Scotland, and gave an undertaking in respect of
the size of a third Scottish constituency. What are the principles
that you have taken into account in making these exceptions?
Mr Clegg: The first principle
is that in the case of the two island constituencies Orkney and
Shetland have already long been recognised in legislation as occupying
a particular status. The ferry from the Shetland Islands to the
mainland takes 12 to 13 hours. It is divorced from the mainland,
if you like, in a way that is widely recognised to be unique.
It is a very large constituency because of the dispersed nature
of the islands. The same can be said of the Western Isles. There
are other island constituencies, St Ives springs to mind, where
islands are part of the constituency but because of the geographical
proximity of the islands to the mainland the same dilemmas do
not present themselves. The second principle, which I think you
are alluding to, is on the geographical cap.
Q43 Mr Turner: Charles Kennedy's
Mr Clegg: Yes. That was just a
pragmatic one. We felt there needed to be some limit to the geographical
size of a constituency. Charles Kennedy's constituency is by a
long way the largest. The next largest constituency is about 8,000
square kilometres; his is about 13,000 square kilometres. We thought
that it would be a simple principle to say that in any changes
following the boundary reviews no constituency should be geographically
larger than what is presently the largest one.
Q44 Mr Turner: How do you deal with
Charles Kennedy's constituency with about 65,000 constituents
at the moment and the need to reach the average of 76,000?
Mr Clegg: It is not for me, the
government or any politician to do; it is for the independent
boundary commissions. There are many ways in which they could
decide to do it.
Q45 Mr Turner: How?
Mr Clegg: It depends in part on
where they start from. Do they start from north and go south in
Scotland? How do they decide to fulfil the mandate to arrive at
constituencies of around 76,000 voters in each constituency but
with, as I say, the exceptions? That does not apply to the two
island constituencies; and it should not lead to a constituency
larger than the present largest one.
Q46 Mr Turner: So, this may be a
Mr Clegg: We have been very open
about it. There are two exceptions. Let us call the two islands
constituencies one exception. The second one is that notwithstanding
the requirement on the boundary commissioners to implement fairness
there is a limit to the geographical extent of a constituency.
Q47 Mr Turner: So, these exceptions
to the principle of fair votes all apply to Scottish constituencies
apart from those three. What representations did you receive about
these issues, and how do you take them into account? Who approached
whom over these three constituencies?
Mr Clegg: In the coalition agreement
we said very clearly that we would have a boundary review that
meant more equality in the number of people in each constituency,
but very clearly we chose the wording very precisely to reflect
not totally rigid equality everywhere because we then anticipated,
quite rightly, that there were certain very limited circumstances.
Q48 Mr Turner: I am just trying to
establish who approached whom, not what has happened with the
agreement on the principle, between then and now if you like?
Mr Clegg: Did I speak to Charles
Kennedy about the size of his constituency before we made that
decision? No, I did not.
Q49 Mr Turner: Did anyone?
Mr Clegg: Did anyone speak to
him? I do not think so. We took this decision very much in line
with what we set out in the coalition agreement within government.
To be clear, maybe I should not perpetuate the characterisation
of this as a Charles Kennedy exception.
Q50 Mr Turner: It is not his fault.
Mr Clegg: It is simply an expression
of pragmatism. You have some very large constituencies. You and
I represent geographically much smaller constituencies and it
is difficult to imagine what it would be like to cover a constituency
the size of a small European country. There must be some limit
to that and we simply decided that the best rule of thumb would
be to take approximately the size of the largest constituency
presently, which is about 13,000 square kilometres, and, importantly,
that in itself is in a league of its own compared with any other
constituency. The practical effect is pretty limited.
Chair: We will adjourn for a few minutes.
The Committee suspended from 11.03 am to 11.06
Chair: We were talking about constituency
boundary reform and the difference in size of constituencies.
Mr Andrew Turner was in the middle, or perhaps towards the end,
of his questioning.
Q51 Mr Turner: In answer to my question
to you last week you said that my constituents would be consulted
as everyone would over these proposals. If they do not agree with
you will you listen to them?
Mr Clegg: It is not for me or
indeed any politician.
Q52 Mr Turner: If I may interrupt,
I am talking about you. You are not going to?
Mr Clegg: No politician will conduct
Q53 Mr Turner: But will you consult
Mr Clegg: We have set out the
principle of greater fairness and equality in terms of the number
of constituents per constituency. That is the core principle in
the Bill which in a sense from our point is immutable.
Q54 Mr Turner: So, there is no consultation?
Mr Clegg: That is the principle.
We were very open about it in the coalition agreement. The idea
of greater equality in terms of the number of voters for each
constituency is the driving principle of this change. Does that
mean people will be able to get involved in consultation and make
their views known during the conduct of the boundary reviews?
Of course they will, but if you ask me whether the government
will reopen its assertion that we should conduct these boundary
reviews so that the weight of votes of individual voters in the
country is more equal to others that is something we are determined
to press on with.
Q55 Mr Turner: You have three constituencies
which are excluded in one form or other from the principle and
the rest have to stick with it?
Mr Clegg: Just on the exceptions,
they are very limited and, I hope, both easy to defend and understand
given the highly exceptional nature of the two island constituencies
of Orkney and Shetland and the Western Isles. At one point one
needs some kind of geographical cap on how vast a constituency
becomes; otherwise, MPs will be asking IPSA for helicopters to
ferry them out to their constituents.
Q56 Mr Turner: But it is a very simple
principle that if you are not joined to the mainland it should
be one or two. I do not mind which. Take the Isle of Wight.
Mr Clegg: There are island communities:
Anglesey, St Ives.
Q57 Mr Turner: No, not Anglesey.
Mr Clegg: One has St Ives and
Argyll and Bute. There are island communities but they are part
of a constituency which also incorporates the mainland. You will
be aware from the history of the Isle of Wight that a long time
ago it had eight MPs. I do not think that in a sense over time
these things have been chiselled in stone, but I think the principle
of trying to create greater equality of weight and worth of people's
votes is a good one.
Q58 Mr Turner: You are saying that
it is decided?
Mr Clegg: The principle of greater
fairness and equality in terms of how many people live in each
constituency is right at the core of what we seek to do. We are
determined to try to deliver that. I believe that about one third
of Members of the House already represent constituencies of about
76,000, or within the 5% margin either side of 76,000. You are
well known as an outstanding constituency MP with an electorate
of 109,000. There are about 37 seats which are around 80,000.
People talk about this as if we are entering into a completely
new universe where people will represent constituencies in a way
that has never happened before. About one third of Members here
are already doing it. It seems to me that if that can be done
it can easily be extended to other places as well.
Q59 Tristram Hunt: I want to tease
out briefly the situation of Scottish constituencies. If Ross,
Skye and Lochaber cannot be extended geographically because it
is the largest constituency you are willing to contemplate and
therefore it cannot grow in terms of its electoral population
the logic of the situation is that it must be dissolved into other
constituencies. It cannot physically gain extra electors unless
all of them get very busy and produce however many new voters
over the next few years. We do not think that will happen. The
logic of the situation is that that constituency ipso facto
must be dissolved if you believe in having 76,000 voters. If you
do not believe in that it simply becomes another exception where
you say it is a large constituency and, therefore, it will be
all right to have 55,000 voters. Therefore, the geographic model
does not quite make sense.
Mr Clegg: To be clear, this is
not an exception for that constituency. Along with all other constituencies
that constituency may well be redrawn entirely. That is not for
me but the boundary commissions to determine. It is not about
that constituency; it is about setting a ceiling on sheer geographical
size beyond which boundary commissions cannot go. In a sense the
exception is not for the Ross, Skye and Lochaber constituency;
it is simply saying to the boundary commissions that when they
implement the principle of greater fairness and equality in terms
of the number of voters in each constituency they can depart from
that if the constituency reaches the ceiling of 13,000 square
kilometres, which as it happens is the size of only one constituency
at the moment and is quite exceptional compared with others. I
believe it is a much more modest caveat than you seem to suggest.
Q60 Tristram Hunt: It is quite important,
because it is saying that that constituency having reached that
geographical limit is therefore exempted from the population requirement.
Mr Clegg: Not that constituency;
the constituency might be different. Let us start again. Do you
accept that for an individual to represent a constituency and
to do so successfully in our single Member constituency system,
whether it is first past the post or AV, there is a major practical
constraint on the ability to do it related to how much physical
territory he or she needs to cover? If you accept that principle
then I think you also have to accept that at some point you need
to say to the boundary commissions in statute that there is a
ceiling on geographical size. Our thoughtif you have other
suggestions I shall be keen to hear themis that in the
absence of anything else to set that ceiling at the largest size
of current constituencies is a sensible thing to do, not least
because it is so out of step; it is about 5,000 square kilometres
larger than the next largest constituency, so it is a very high
Q61 Tristram Hunt: Does it mean therefore
that the size of the other constituencies in Scotland must take
up the weight so that they rise to 78,000 or 79,000 if you are
doing it nationally by size of constituencies?
Mr Clegg: It means that the boundary
commissions must seek to deliver across the whole country constituencies
with approximately the same number of people; that is, 5% either
side. It will probably be about 76,000 depending on the electoral
register published at the beginning of December. There are two
exceptions: one is the two island constituencies because of their
unique geographical location and size; the other is the setting
of a geographical size limit. If they have to do that by exceeding
13,000 square kilometres they can exempt themselves from that
strict rule, but they may well find they can do it within the
geographical ceiling given we have set it as high as we have.
Chair: I shall now take a group of questions,
starting with Stephen Williams.
Stephen Williams: As to size, I want
to ask about the methodology that the boundary commissions will
use to get to the optimum number of about 75,000. I represented
the Liberal Democrats at the Boundary Commission inquiry in both
written and oral evidence back in 1999-2000 when the Commission
looked at the boundaries for the former county of Avon, which
now includes one of the seats I represent. I told them at the
time that there were umpteen planning permissions in place for
new houses and flats in the city centre; there were cranes constructing
some of them. They said they could not take any of that into account
but purely the electoral register as it stood at that time. That
was over 10 years ago. At the time Bristol West was the largest
urban seat in the country. In the 2005 election my electorate
was 81,000; in the 2010 election it had reached nearly 84,000.
Therefore, the sole purpose of the boundary review in Bristol
was an utter waste of time because it took so long to implement
but it would not use the balance of evidence that was available.
Is it possible for the boundary commission to use evidence other
than purely the electoral register as it stands; that is, census,
council tax and all the OS (Ordnance Survey) data available in
the public domain?
Mrs Laing: First, do you agree that partly
in answer to what Stephen Williams has just said the speedy introduction
of individual voter registration, for which some of us have argued
for many years, will increase the comprehensiveness of the register
and allay the fears of many people about that issue? Second, do
you agree it is a very simple principle that every vote should
have equal value? Will you enforce that strictly?
Sir Peter Soulsby: In your initial presentation
you described the House as being much larger than comparable legislatures.
As I understand it, it is only very slightly larger than the German
Bundestag; similarly, the Italian Chamber of Deputies has 630
members and the French National Assembly has 577 members. Why
have you chosen 600 rather than 500, 550 or 650? What is the logic
behind what seems to be an apparently arbitrary choice of 600?
Simon Hart: You mentioned the geographical
and population maxima for the revised boundaries. What consultation
will be undertaken by the Boundary Commission in this regard?
It seems to me that if those are the criteria there is almost
no provision for consultation at all. As we have heard from others,
75,000 people in a rural area present a very different problem
from 75,000 people in an urban area. It takes me an hour and 50
minutes to drive across my constituency; it takes my friend Kate
Hoey an hour and a half to walk across hers. In what way can we
look forward to an engaging consultation with the Boundary Commission
or is it essentially a done deal?
Catherine McKinnell: To pick up a couple
of points raised by Mrs Laing and Stephen Williams but to take
a slightly different view of them, do you have any concerns about
the number of unregistered voters on the electoral register? Have
you given any consideration to rushing through this legislation
and not waiting for the planned census in March 2011 which will
give us more accurate data to deal with some of the problems raised
by Stephen Williams? What action will you take to tackle under-representation
which individual voter registration may exacerbate if it is done
in too much of a hurry?
Q62 Chair: To add to that, the register
on which all this will take place is the December 2010 register.
What will happen between now and December 2010 to get people registered?
Will help be provided to electoral registration officers and councils
to register the large number of people who currently are not on
Mr Clegg: Perhaps I may deal first
with the cluster of issues about unregistered voters, individual
voter registration and how we improve what is called the annual
canvass. We need to do several things at once. First, we need
to hold boundary reviews more regularly. Stephen Williams said
quite rightly it is an absurdity that the last general election
was fought on boundaries determined by a boundary review derived
from electoral registration data that is now over a decade old.
Once we start on this process we need to do it more regularly
precisely so we do not get this huge time lag between register
and eventual boundaries. Second, we need to build upon the commitments
made by the previous government to move towards individual electoral
registration. Catherine McKinnell is absolutely right to say that
that in itself is not a panacea for non-registration. If it is
done properly and properly resourced it can be but I agree that
in principle it is not a panacea and we hope to come forward with
some ideas very shortly about how we do that. I have discovered
that it is immensely expensive and so there is a resource issue.
We are trying to find a way to do it properly without cutting
corners. I hope that I or the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of
State, Mark Harper, will be able to talk to you about this on
a future occasion. Third, what we are looking at currently is
whether we can equip electoral registration officers in local
authority areas with the means by which they can try to identify
people who are not registered. There is a good deal of debate
about whether the figure of 3.5 million is accurate. I believe
it was derived from 2000 data, so it is quite out of date. For
instance, what we could doI stress that we are only looking
at itis give electoral registration officers the capacity
to compare the data on the electoral register with other readily
available data. It does not create a new database. I would never
permit the creation of new pools of private information, but they
would just compare them and knock on people's doors and tell people
they are on one database but not on the electoral registration.
That is one very pragmatic thing to do. As the Chairman mentioned,
the final thing is whether we can do something to dramatise the
annual canvass. That is something we can probably do in our own
areas much more than we do. I know some Members do a great deal
of work with their local authorities to make this known to people
publicly in their own areas, but maybe we can compare best practice
in those areas where everybody is really aware it is happening
in the cycle from 1 July to 1 December, the target date being
15 October. I am aware that some Members have suggested that maybe
we should do the annual canvass at a different time of year. We
are genuinely open to looking at those things. We need to do all
those things togetherthere is no single magic wand solution
or panacea to deal with under-registrationto move towards
individual electoral registration and make sure we do not have
this time lag between the register and the boundaries that are
eventually decided upon. As to the figure of 600, prior to the
election the Conservative Party had a proposal to cut the number
of MPs to 585. The Liberal Democrats had an even more radical
proposal but it was linked to a different electoral system to
cut down the size of the House. We can quibble about international
comparisons, but broadly speaking it is incontrovertible that
it is a very large chamber. We took some of those ideas as our
starting point and decided that we needed some flexibility to
make sure we did not create totally unfeasible straight lines
on the map which made absolutely no sense. We have now settled
on 600 which is a 7.6% cut in the total number. A third of Members
already operate on the basis on which many other Members will
operate after the boundary review. In our judgment it struck the
right balance in making the change we wanted to, cutting the cost
of politics, making sure that votes were of equal worth wherever
they were in the country but also creating a chamber of sufficient
size both to represent constituents and hold the executive to
account. In response to Simon Hart, there needs to be extensive
consultation and one of the proposals we shall be publishing in
detail in the Bill in the next few days will extend the period
during which written representations can be made to the Boundary
Commission. I am very mindful of the fact that there must be ample
opportunity for people to be consulted and express their views.
Chair: I do not know whether Sheila Gilmore
believes her questions have been answered so far. If not, I will
call upon Sheila Gilmore, Tristram Hunt and Stephen Williams.
Sheila Gilmore: I am still not entirely
clear about the knock-on effect of breaching the number in some
constituencies. Having a cap of 600 could have an effect on others.
Are you comfortable with that? We must also take into account
that, for example, in Scotland we had a substantial reduction
in the number of seats only five years ago and so this would involve
another reduction. The problem with registration is that it is
not consistent over the country and we do not need to do research
to know that all of us who have been out campaigning know this
is something that affects some parts of the country more than
Tristram Hunt: The last boundary review
in England took six and a half years. John Major's review in 1992
took four years because the government increased the staff of
the Electoral Commission from 12 to 40. Will you look to do the
same in terms of increased funding? Will you also look to cut
the number of ministers relative to the cuts in the legislature
so that everything you said about holding the executive to account
and not having an overriding executive is reflected in the legislation?
Finally, will you allow a right of appeal to the boundary commission
by political parties?
Stephen Williams: I want to follow up
Sir Peter Soulsby's question about the size of comparable European
parliaments. France and Italy are more comparable with Britain
in terms of population. The difference between the UK and those
countries is that they decentralise much more power from Rome
and Paris than we do here, so I struggle to understand the rationale
for a reduction in the number of British Members of Parliament
when we do not have balancing proposals in the coalition agreement
and far more power in Bristol and Sheffield for that matter.
Sir Peter Soulsby: I want to get a specific
answer about the process. Will local councils and constituents
still be able to call local inquiries if they disagree with the
provisional recommendations of boundary commissions? That is an
important part of the process at the moment. Can you give a very
clear answer on whether or not that provision will remain?
Chair: The final question in this round
comes from me. Have you considered imposing a duty upon the Boundary
Commission to treat the existing number of Members of Parliament
as a ceilingtherefore any future Boundary Commission must
reduce the numbersand maintain that ceiling, which means
that next time round that becomes the new ceiling, so there is
always downward pressure on the Boundary Commission's number of
constituencies until you reach some sort of optimum number? In
other words, you get to where you want to be without changing
the existing rules by applying downward pressure on the Boundary
Commission in terms of the number of seats. It may take two or
three boundary commissions to do that rather than getting it done
hurriedly in time for the next election. I cut Mr Turner short
and he will put a quick question.
Q63 Mr Turner: Could you look also
at where people are over-represented; that is, people on the register
who should not be on it?
Mr Clegg: Sheila Gilmore asked
about further reductions in the number of seats. The important
point to make, which touches slightly on the questions put by
Tristram Hunt and Stephen Williams, is that we have had very significant
devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly.
As a coalition government we have made clear that we want to go
further. We want to implement the Calman Commission. A referendum
will be held in Wales and if it leads to a yes vote that will
lead to a Calman process itself in Wales. Therefore, we are living
in a Great Britain which is already far more devolved certainly
to the nations, but perhaps not to Sheffield and Bristol to which
I will come in a minute. There is no harm in having that reflected
in the rebalancing of the number of politicians here, in a federal
parliament if you like, and in the parliaments in the nations
of the United Kingdom. That is why, for instance, we shall be
moving towards a decoupling of the present link between the numbers
of Assembly Members and MPs. There is no logical reason why that
link should continue. We shall be proposing in the legislation
that that is decoupled so that eventually it will be for the Assembly
to decide its own numbers, not for that to be an automatic consequence
of what in a sense is an unrelated process of electing MPs to
Westminster. I agree with Sheila Gilmore that registration is
patchy. If I may say so, the debate about registration has been
characterised as one where somehow it is only in inner city and
urban seats that there is a problem of under-registration. That
is factually not right. There is a real problem of under-registration
in coastal seats and student seats which, parenthetically, lots
of Liberal Democrat Members including myself represent. The idea
that there is an overlap between those areas where under-registration
is high and the political complexion of seats is just factually
incorrect. I understand that people have a great deal of fun trying
to make that argument but the facts just do not bear it out. There
are acute problems in non-inner city areas as well. As to resources,
we will be keen to look at that. It would be senseless to try
to move at the pace we are doing without making sure it is done
properly. If we arrive at a parliament that is 600 rather than
650 we have the current number of ministers but in the next parliament
a subsequent government should have an open mind about whether
the number should be reduced. I see Sir Peter Soulsby shaking
his head, but it seems to me that he seeks to draw a link between
the numbers of MPs and the number of ministers. The cuts we propose
will not take place this side of the next general election so
I hope that is a reasonable point to make, but if he feels that
there is a link then that link, if it needs to be made, should
be made in the number of ministers when the change occurs. It
has not occurred yet. Stephen Williams asked about the general
narrative of a smaller central parliament with more powers devolved
elsewhere. I have given part of that answer to the increase in
devolution to Scotland and Wales, but I agree with him that I
hope we will also make substantial progress over the next five
years in greater devolution within England as well. We are working
on that in government right now. I think you have seen some signs
of the direction of travel. For instance, we have announced in
the NHS White Paperby the way, I believe some aspects of
it have been overlookeda dramatic increase in the power
of local authorities to unite social care and healthcare, which
is a division that has blighted our healthcare system for far
too long; promote public health issues with much greater authority;
and provide strategic oversight of the way GP commissioners work.
That is a dramatic increase in local authority healthcare which
is an area of vital public interest. Obviously, we have been talking
of the idea of directly electing police commissioners. We have
been very open about the fact that we want to revisit that. It
is very complicated. Local government finance has been a graveyard
for governments in the past. We have an almost uniquely over-centralised
fiscal system and we want to look at that over time. I agree that
that would be consistent with a parliament of a slightly more
modest size; that is, a 7.6% cut in numbers. Mr Turner asked about
proposals for regular boundary reviews; improving individual elector
registration; and allowing electoral registration officers to
seek out those who are not on the register. Would it also flush
out those people who should not be on the register in the first
place? Yes. The experience in Northern Ireland is precisely that.
It uncovered a fair number of people who should not have been
on the register in the first place. That is as wrong as having
people not on the register who should be. It is a two-way street.
Sir Peter Soulsby asked about local inquiries. We are looking
into that at the moment. We are very keen to make sure that the
consultation process is extended. What the knock-on effect will
be on local inquiries as they are presently constituted is something
we are looking at currently. Obviously, we shall publish that
in a Bill very shortly. Our intention is to move immediately to
the 600 and have it on the face of the Bill and for that to be
the mandate, if you like, for boundary commissions such that they
come up with recommendations which will lead to a parliament of
Tristram Hunt: Can you say whether political
parties will be able to appeal?
Q64 Chair: We will pick up that question
at the end if we have five minutes because we have taken the best
part of 30 minutes on this particular topic.
Mr Clegg: I am very happy to return
to it. The short answer is that of course political parties will
retain the right to be consulted and so on.
Chair: I promise that we will come back
to that, but it means everybody must be disciplined over the next
two sets of issues, the first one of which is fixed-term parliaments,
confidence votes and dissolution.
Q65 Mr Chope: In the first Adjournment
Debate of this Parliament the Deputy Leader of the House confirmed
that there would be a motion brought before the Chamber before
the summer recess setting out a binding motion on the date of
the next general election. What has happened to that?
Mr Clegg: We felt that was necessary
on the assumption that the legislation would then come much further
down the track. When we looked at it again we decided it was simpler
and also in a sense would provide greater scrutiny for the measure
in Parliament if we just moved straight to introducing a Bill
and that is what is what we shall do next week. I freely admit
that we have shifted in a sense but it is a procedural shift.
Initially, we thought we needed the motion to show the political
commitment to a fixed-term parliament and then, on a more leisurely
timetable, produce the legislation. The closer we looked at it
given its constitutional importance we thought it better and more
proper to move to legislation on a quicker timetable.
Q66 Mr Chope: Why do we need to legislate
for a fixed-term parliament in respect of the current Parliament
rather than future ones when the Prime Minister has already said
he is happy to have a general election in May 2015 and not before?
Mr Clegg: Dare I say that part
of the principle of introducing fixed-term parliaments is precisely
that it is not just in the gift of the Prime Minister to choose
x or y date? As the Prime Minister has made clear,
the whole point is that this would remove his right to be the
sole arbiter of the date of the next general election. I think
one can do that in a belt and braces way only through primary
Q67 Mr Chope: But does it not suggest
that there is a lack of trust at the heart of the coalition because
you can introduce legislation so that prospective parliaments
are bound by a fixed-term rule? In this Parliament there is the
complication of a possible AV referendum. Is not your desire to
encapsulate something in the form of legislation to provide you
with a way out if the AV referendum goes the wrong way? You said
earlier that you hoped Members of this Parliament and the country
were grown up, but there are lots of rumours circulating that
if the Liberal Democrats do not win the AV referendum they will
pull out of the coalition and that is the reason why we need to
legislate now for a fixed-term parliament.
Mr Clegg: You have an elegant
but suspicious turn of mind. This is really not driven by endless
rumours and counter-rumours about what might or might not happen
in future. I think it is a simple fact that if you look at fixed-term
parliaments anywhere else around the worldthis goes back
to the earlier discussionthis is a constitutional innovation
of significant proportions and should not be left to the whim
of an individual prime minister or politician; it needs to be
enshrined in legislation. It would be bizarre to have a political
commitment to a fixed-term parliament that applied to only one
parliament. Surely, the point of a fixed-term parliament is precisely
to give the reassurance that that is the way it is fixed henceforth,
and again I think that can be done only through primary legislation.
Q68 Mr Chope: Effectively, you are
arguing for is retrospection because you did not go into the election
saying that there should be a fixed-term parliament.
Mr Clegg: Yes, we did.
Q69 Mr Chope: If you arrived now
and decided it would be nice to have a seven-year parliament and
we should legislate for this Parliament to continue for seven
years we would all be jumping up and down and calling it retrospective
legislation. Can I ask you immediately to confirm or scotch the
rumours that if the AV referendum goes the wrong way the coalition
will be at an end?
Mr Clegg: I can happily scotch
any rumours. I have given up following all the rumours which are
invariably wrong. We did campaign on a fixed-term parliament.
I think the Labour Party before the last election and also your
Leader in Opposition came out in favour of it. All parties declared
that they were in favour of fixed-term parliaments in a unique
wayit had not happened beforein the months leading
up to the general election, so there was at least that rhetorical
consensus in play.
Q70 Mr Chope: During the election
campaign my Leader, the current Prime Minister, said he thought
that if there was a change of PM it should trigger a general election
within six months. Do you agree that is completely at odds with
a commitment to a fixed-term parliament?
Mr Clegg: I think the commitment
to a fixed-term parliament was widely shared amongst all parties
for the very good reasonI would hope this would make you
an advocate of the measurethat it lessens the discretion
of the Prime Minister. We saw this absurd spectacle in 2007 when
the whole country was hijacked for week after week in seeing whether
or not the people in the bunker at Number 10 would decide to hold
a general election. It was debilitating; it crippled good governance.
In particular, it makes a mockery of the idea of parliamentary
accountability of the executive. It puts all the power in the
hands of the executive. This is an issue we would deal with through
fixed-term legislation. It should not be the plaything of a politician,
and where there is a power of dissolution that power should be
administered by Parliament, not the Prime Minister.
Q71 Tristram Hunt: In your speech
on 16 May on "New Politics" you said: "This government
is going to transform our politics so that the state has far less
control over you, and you have far more control over the state."
Some of us do not have a problem with fixed-term parliaments but
the length of parliaments. The five-year model given what you
said at the beginning of your evidence about changes in culture
and politics seems to go against the grain both internationallyRobert
Hazell has said that five years is long in comparison with other
parliamentary systemsand the history of parliaments in
the 20th century. Why have you gone for five years in your "scotching
rumours" moment when the culture of British politics seems
to suggest four years rather than binding you all together for
Mr Clegg: Being the historian
amongst us, you will be aware that the Septennial Act of 1715
five years is specified as the maximum period. You will also know
that the outgoing Labour government has just governed for five
years. I agree that we can have a debate about the ideal time,
but taking that constitutional precedent of a maximum period of
time in the Septennial Act and establishing that as the guide
for a fixed-term parliament seemed to us to be a sensible way
to proceed. Do I think that in practice 12 months makes an earth-shattering
difference in terms of the length of time of a fixed-term parliament?
No. I do accept as a fact that some government have run short
of that maximum term, but it seems that, going with the grain
of some of the founding texts of our unwritten constitution and
following the precedent set by the immediate outgoing government,
to give any government of whatever complexion enough time to govern
and deliver a programme of change and reform seems to us to lead
towards a five-year period.
Chair: If I may be permitted a "Nick
Boles" moment, if one looks at social policy as I do and
trying to break into generational cycles, one is bedevilled by
the fact that government policy changes rapidly and is on an annual
budgetary cycle and often on a four-yearly, sometimes shorter,
electoral cycle. Therefore, I believe that consistency and stability
would be helped in a large number of areas, particularly if we
can achieve a party-political and social consensus on social policies.
Let us move on to the remaining miscellaneous bits of your responsibilities,
if I may put it in that way. I begin with Nick Boles who has a
question about a bill of rights.
Nick Boles: I shall try to recover my
reputation by asking questions. First, certainly it was a proposal
by the Conservative Party in the election campaign to bring forward
a bill of rights. I understand that is subject to a commission,
review or whatever it is. While I believe that technically in
the organisation of government that might be the responsibility
of the Ministry of Justice it strikes me that it is more clearly
a constitutional measure, so the question is whether you will
take a lead role in that and therefore whether this Committee
will also be playing a role in scrutinising it.
Chair: Perhaps I may prompt Nick Boles
on his idea about recall.
Q72 Nick Boles: I have a particular
interest in the question of recall. Would you be willing to consider
doing some work on this? My predecessor, as indeed David Cameron's
predecessor, defected to another party from the one under which
he was elected. I believe that part of the process of making politics
more like people really think it is rather than like we would
pretend it is is to recognise that even though technically we
are elected as individuals in reality most people voteit
is probably not true in the case of some very well-known MPsfor
representatives of their party. Certainly, in my constituency
the level of anger, which did not apply just to Conservatives
when the sitting Member decided that it was acceptable for him
to join another party and not give constituents the opportunity
to say whether or not they wanted to stick with him as their MP,
was intense and remained so long after it happened. Would you
consider adding to the recall provisions on MPs who are naughty
boys and girls in some determined way another particular category,
namely that where a Member defects, as opposed to being thrown
out, there should be a requirement to call a ballot if that individual
wants to remain the MP?
Mr Clegg: As to a British bill
of rights that is something on which the Secretary of State for
Justice and myself are working together. You will be aware that
the coalition agreement was very clear: we would a commission
to look at the case for a British bill of rights, mindful first
of the need to protect in full all the rights and responsibilities
under the European Convention on Human Rights and the way those
are translated into British law. That is a matter on which we
shall be working together and we hope to make some announcements
on it fairly shortly. I am not persuaded of the case for including
defections in the mechanism of recall. I should stress that this
is a classic area where we could do some fruitful work together.
We all agree, do we not, that the power of recall is a great thing?
If someone has committed some serious wrongdoing and the House
has in a sense failed to hold the individual to account we all
agreewe went into the last election on this basisit
is wrong for constituents to wait until the next general election
to cast their own judgment. There are some crimes and acts of
wrongdoing that already automatically disqualify a member, for
example if the MP is in prison for more than a year. I believe
that it happened only once in the case of Fiona Jones, but she
Q73 Chair: Indeed. She went through hell
and was then reinstated. One has to draw the rules very clearly.
Mr Clegg: We do. We must get the
right balance to allow people in constituencies to hold their
MPs to account if they have been shown to have committed serious
wrongdoing. That is the first caveat. The second one, which is
our suggestion, is that the mechanism is triggered only if 10%
of people in the local area sign a petition. I think it can be
broadened too much and the problem is that it becomes a plaything
for politicians so they can start to tear strips off one another.
As you can hear, our view about how the recall mechanism should
work is not fully formed. The principle is easy to establish but
the devil is in the detail. How we make it work so it strikes
the right balance to provide accountability but does not topple
into political vigilantism is really tricky, and maybe that is
a matter we can take up on another occasion.
Q74 Nick Boles: I want to make clear
that it was a mistake of mine to link my proposal on defecting
MPs to the recall mechanism. It is a completely separate case.
I think it is the simple truth that the British people believe
they are voting mostly for people who are representatives of their
parties. If they believe them to be terrific constituency Members
they will re-elect them after defection and any MP with any honour
and self-respect should have the courage to stand up and say,
"I have changed my mind for these reasons. I hope you feel
that I am still a good constituency Member and you will continue
to support me." I believe it is intolerable to suggest that
the people, who after all employ us and put us here, should not
have that opportunity, but I do not believe it has anything to
do with the other recall provisions. I hope that you will at least
ask some people in your department to have a look at it.
Mr Clegg: Yes.
Chair: I shall ask Catherine McKinnell
and Mr Chope to put questions.
Catherine McKinnell: The current percentage
of women MPs is 21.9%. If I were to make a political point, a
huge proportion of them are from the Labour Party and not many
from the Liberal Democrats. That gives me concern that in some
of these proposals we do not appear to be looking at the issue
of representation. In the list of things to be considered you
have drawn up is improved access for disabled Members. I can see
why the government has to take a role in that, but given that
we are to institute land mark political changes can you provide
us with reassurance that you have taken into consideration and
will also be exploring all the issues of how to improve the representation
of women and ethnic minorities in the changes and that they will
not impact negatively? There is concern that these changes will
impact negatively on minority representatives, for example reducing
seats in the open primaries. There is a general concern out there
and it has not been addressed or looked at.
Q75 Mr Chope: You will know that
the issue of English votes on English issues is a very hot topic
in our constituencies. You are committed to setting up a commission
on the West Lothian Question. When will it be set up and report
because we need to get some action on it early in this Parliament,
do we not?
Mr Clegg: On Catherine McKinnell's
point, I would be very keen to hear directlyI do not know
how one would organise ither concerns that unwittingly
any of the proposals we put forward would make it more difficult
for Parliament to become more diverse in the way it needs to be.
One thing I will definitely do is work with officials literally
to test everything we are doing to flush that out; otherwise,
it would be a spectacular own goal. I strongly agree with the
assertion that we have greater diversity in Parliament. I am Leader
of a Party which is lamentably unrepresentative of modern Britain.
I shall off my own bat and Party be making announcements and taking
some initiatives in the autumn to try to correct that. Each party
has its own debate to hold. There was a very complex debate about
the short-term gains of cracking this problem by setting aside
places, setting quotas and so on sometimes with the long-term
costs of that not being sustainable over time. I know that debate
is held in the Labour Party probably more than others. At the
previous election the Speaker's Conference looked particularly
at greater access for candidates with disabilities but, more broadly,
the lack of diversity. That made some very powerful recommendations
upon which we need to act. I hope this is something that we can
do in concert. I am quite open as Leader of a Party that is not
yet sufficiently diverse in its representation in Parliament that
we need to learn the best lessons of what has and has not worked
elsewhere. There is a party dimension, government dimension and
also a parliamentary dimension which is not the remit of the government.
I believe that how Parliament conducts itself, how things are
timed and the way in which we conduct ourselves in the Chamber
has quite a dramatic off-putting impact on all people of whatever
gender, colour and denomination, particularly among younger generations.
I think it might have a disproportionate discouraging effect on
some rather than others. On the West Lothian Question, we shall
be keen to set it up. We hope to make an announcement on that
in the autumn.
Chair: Colleagues on this side of the
aisle, so to speak, will need to put their questions quickly.
Sir Peter Soulsby: Perhaps I may return
briefly an earlier question. I asked about Boundary Commission
recommendations and local inquiries. At the moment local people
and local councils who disagree with provisional recommendations
have an opportunity to call for a local inquiry. You failed to
give an answer to assure us that that right would continue. If
that right is taken away how would it be consistent with the empowerment
of local people?
Simon Hart: It is slightly ironic that
you have settled on a figure of 10% as the threshold on the subject
of recall whereas you do not really like thresholds in any other
context. That may be a bit flippant, but can you ensure that if
there is a threshold figure it does not permit political parties
to launch an operation in those circumstances just to discomfort
or remove somebody from a different party?
Mrs Laing: I turn to non-contentious
issues on electoral administration. We discovered in the run-up
to the general election that the powers and duties of returning
officers were ill-defined except by reference to the Electoral
Commission. We discovered this when we tried to enforce an election
count commencing on election night. Eventually, there was cross-party
agreement. There is a gaping hole. In addition, if electoral returning
officers are to do their duties properly, including IVR, will
there be earmarked funds for them to do so?
Tristram Hunt: Referring to the role
of the sovereign during the two-week dissolution, is there any
change to the prerogative rights of the palace during the search
for a new government?
Stephen Williams: Can you promise us
that in the 2015 general election Lord Ashcroft and Unite the
Union will not go round the country buying up seats?
Chair: That was an abuse!
Q76 Mr Turner: Your manifesto contained
reference to Europe as did ours, but we are having a referendum
on something else. What has happened?
Mr Clegg: Those are totally uncontroversial
things all saved for the end, and I have to answer them in two
minutes flat. In response to Sir Peter, I have not provided a
full answer because we have not fully drafted the Bill yet. What
is in the Bill will replace existing arrangements. As I indicated
in response to Simon Hart, we are keen that the period of consultation
should be extended, not subtracted. That will have a knock-on
effect on how and whether you hold inquiries. Perhaps I may ask
you to hold on for a few days and see what we put into the Bill.
The point of the threshold is to achieve precisely what you suggest
and not allow this to become the plaything of political parties,
but again whether it is 10% or 12% may be something we can discuss
at another time. On the question of recall we must get the right
balance to achieve accountability but prevent the whole thing
collapsing into tit-for-tat stuff between the parties. I strongly
agree with Mrs Laing; we need to look at this. The Electoral Commission
has just produced a Report on the mishaps at the last general
election. The biggest delays and mess probably occurred in a section
of my community where hundreds of people were turned away even
though they have been queuing for two hours. That also has in
it some comments about the roles and responsibilities of returning
officers and whether they are being properly resources and held
to account. We have not yet fully analysed and looked at it, but
I am mindful of what you say. In response to Tristram Hunt, I
hesitate to reply emphatically on something as sensitive and obscure
in equal measure as the royal prerogative. If I understand it
correctly, there is no proposal to change it during the two-week
period that would ensue if a motion of no confidence in the government
was carried. In keeping with arrangements in many other parliaments
in the democratic world, a two-week space is provided during which
attempts are made for another government to form itself. In response
to Stephen Williams, the intention is to pick up from some of
the previous attempts, notably the cross-party talks under the
chairmanship of Sir Hayden Phillips, to deal with party funding
so that we can finally together remove the stain related to party
funding which has affected all of us. No one can be holier than
thou. We have to show by the next general election that big vested
interest and big money do not run our politics, and it is unbelievably
important that we do that; if not, we will go the way of America
and our politics will just be hollowed out by moneyed vested interests
from whatever quarter. Finally, in response to Mr Turner's question
about Europe, the coalition agreement states emphatically that
there will be a referendum lock such that in the event there is
any proposal for transfer of powers from here to the European
Union on that occasion the British people will have their say
in a referendum.
Chair: Deputy Prime Minister, it has
been a great pleasure to have you here. We are delighted that
you agreed to come within one day of our creation. It also shows
how seriously this Committee takes its responsibilities on pre-legislative
scrutiny and evidence-taking. We are moving very rapidly. This
has been a tour de force across the whole field with a
lot of detailed questions with still a lot unsaid on the balance
between Parliament and the executive. The Royal Prerogative barely
got a mention. We shall be returning to some of the really big
issues such as local versus national and separation of powers.
We appreciate your evidence today.
1 Ev 18 Back
Note from Witness: Fiona Jones was convicted on 19 March
1999 of "corrupt practices" under section 82(6) of the
Representation of the People Act 1983 and sentenced to 100 hours'
community service. The conviction was subsequently quashed by
the Court of Appeal on 15 April 1999. "A person found guilty
of "corrupt practices" is automatically disqualified
from membership of the House of Commons, regardless of the sentence